CHESTER -- One of the most successful eras in Chester High School football came to an end on Friday.
As first reported Friday afternoon at heraldonline.com, coach Victor Floyd announced he's leaving after four seasons to become coach at Brunswick (Ga.) High School. The school is in Glynn County in the southern part of the state.
Floyd said the opportunity was too good to turn down and that he would be cheating his family if he didn't take the job. He had several offers from in-state schools this year but decided not to make a move.
"This one, I just couldn't turn down because of the financial package," Floyd said while fighting back tears. "This was a tough one. It happened out of the blue and was unexpected. I can honestly say leaving Dudley (N.C.) to come here was a lot easier than leaving Chester."
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Chester played in the Class AAA state championship game this past season, losing 14-12 to Wilson. It was the first time the Cyclones advanced to the title game in 44 years. Chester beat Eau Claire for the 1963 championship.
Getting back to the title game was the result of a building process that began upon Floyd's arrival in 2004. The Cyclones went 2-9 in Floyd's first year, 6-5 his second, 7-4 last year and 12-3 last season.
When Floyd got to Chester, there weren't many fans on the home side. But as the team improved, the fans began coming back. Fans showed up early last season to get a good seat and the stands were packed.
The trip to the state championship rallied the town. There were signs of encouragement in front of nearly every business. On a sign in front of the abandoned Kirby Auto Mall on J.A. Cochran Bypass, someone painted "We love our Cyclones" on both sides. It's still there.
The Rev. Leonard Price, an avid Chester Cyclones fan, said Floyd did a lot for the community.
"Coach Floyd instilled confidence in our young men and put a lot of them on the right track," Price said. "I don't think everybody realizes the magnitude of the influence he had on those young men's lives. This is a hard one to take. We can get a new coach, but I don't think we can get anyone to replace him and all the good things he's done."
Demanding, but well respected
Floyd is a tough-love type of coach and demands a lot from his players on and off the field. He also holds afternoon study halls for his players and works with them on how to talk to the media.
One of the first things Floyd did in Chester was go to the home of every returning player and meet with him and his parents. He told them his expectations and his rules. They included keeping their grades up and being respectable on and off the field. No hats in the school building. No baggy pants allowed.
Nine of Floyd's senior players signed scholarships, including Gene McCaskill with Kentucky, C.C. Whitlock with South Carolina and Terrell Springs with Alabama-Birmingham. A 10th senior earned an academic scholarship.
Because of Floyd, Chester players have gotten notice from college coaches throughout the Southeast. It became habit during his four years to load his players into a van and take them to various college camps to be seen.
Floyd met with his players at 2:45 p.m. on Friday in the school's weight room behind closed doors.
"I told them that since I've been here, I've tried to prepare them for opportunities," Floyd said. "Then, I told them that for me, this is one of those opportunities we talk about, one I had to take. Some good players are coming back, and they will be fine. ... I love them and believe in them."
When the meeting ended, some players sat with their heads down and tears flowing. Others had their backs turned so their teammates wouldn't see them cry.
Rising senior defensive back Troy Sanders, who got an offer from Wisconsin on Thursday, said with eyes glassed over that he loves coach Floyd.
"It's the worst news I've ever heard," he said. "My heart is hurting right now. Coach Floyd rides us hard about school and on the practice field, but we know he does it to bring out our best. He helped me mature.
"Coach Floyd told us today that no matter what, he'll always be a Cyclone. He'll be in Georgia, but he said he'll be keeping up with us next year. No matter who the new coach is, we'll continue to work hard. We want to make coach Floyd proud of us."
Chance to build another champion
Jim Weidhass, public relations director for Glynn County schools, said the district is excited about getting a coach of Floyd's caliber.
"We have a team that's on the cusp of getting to the next level," Weidhass said. "We last played in the state championship in 1999 and lost, but we've made the playoffs the last three years. ... We are fortunate to get someone like Victor Floyd, who is not only a good coach, but one who is serious about academics and getting his players into college."
The Pirates play in Georgia's Class AAAA classification.
Floyd was born in Nichols and starred in football at Green Sea-Floyds. He went to North Carolina A&T on a football scholarship and played linebacker.
After graduating, Floyd spent a season coaching tight ends at A&T, then was an assistant for five seasons at Page in North Carolina.
Floyd returned to South Carolina after his stint at Page and coached three seasons at C.A. Johnson. He was at Dudley for three years before coming to Chester and had a 28-13 record.
Floyd also coaches Chester's boys track team, one of several favorites to win this year's state championship. He expects to finish out the school year at Chester, then move his wife, Yolanda, 5-year-old daughter, Victoria, and 1-year-old son, Victor Jr., to Georgia.
Cyclones athletics director Ricky Campbell said the news made for a sad day in Chester, but he's sure the football team will carry on.
"He's done a lot for Chester," Campbell said. "He helped our kids plan for the future, gave them hope, exposure and helping them improve their academics.
"We'll start advertising the job as soon as possible. Spring football practice is right around the corner."